If you like the 80s pop-culture , with movies such as Blade Runner, Wargames, The Dark Crystal and every movie involving John Hughes then you will probably have read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. If you read novels such as Neuromancer, played games such as Pacman, Joust and Zork the same thing goes. Ready Player One is Cline’s homage to bygone era. The novel proved so popular that Steven Spielberg made an adaptation for the big screen released in 2018. Sadly, the cinema is completely the wrong format and the adaptation is considered a failure. Yet fans have long desired a sequel to the original 2011 and now we got one – Ready Player Two.
The story is set a few years after the events of the first novel. Wade, through his avatar Parzival, runs the company that runs the OASIS virtual reality that occupies most people’s daily life’s. With a world that is suffering economic hardship and climate change the escapism the OASIS offers is for many their only ray of light. After completing the challenges of the original designer, James Halliday, Wade and his group of friends dictate the rules of OASIS. However, becoming a billionaire overnight has heightened his emotional immaturity beyond what it already was. Wade quickly loses the love of his life, Art3mis, after disagreeing on the release of a new VR device that directly connects to the brain. Oddly enough this part of the story takes up nearly the first quarter. And it read more like an epilogue to the first novel.
Going on a quest in Ready Player Two
Despite the interesting background information Wade is pretty much a total dick, and he knows it. When he does meet Art3mis at their regular board meeting he says the wrong things and refuses to apologize. Whereas the Wade of the first novel was on a quest, this Wade simply loiters in his mansion. Sadly, the writer gives far too much exposition on Wade’s daily routine and as the reader I start to tune out. It feels like the writer noticed this too and immediately attempts to create a problem. Halliday’s NPC Anorak takes over the OASIS and prevents the VR device to be disengaged. If this last for longer than 12 hours fatal consequences will ensue. Anorak reveals himself to be the world’s first sentient A.I., made by Halliday. After obligatory references to The Terminator and The Matrix Anorak explains to Wade, Art3mis and their friends what he wants.
They have to complete Halliday’s last Easter egg hunt, something that is deeply ingrained within the new VR headsets. By the time the gang gets going to solve the puzzles about half of the novel is already finished and as the reader I already have a laundry list of things that I don’t like. The story is mostly set within the OASIS, and then only within a few locations. In Ready Player One events in reality and in the OASIS had a significant impact on each other. Wade really felt the hardship if poverty, now the closest he comes to poverty is a young woman who helps him with a quest. Furthermore, Wade seems almost disinterested in solving the riddles Halliday left behind. Instead he is obsessed with Art3mis. It is frankly creepy although slowly Wade matures through the story to see his past mistakes in a new light.
The good, the bad and the not so interesting parts
In the middle part of the story the gang has to solve puzzles using clues from John Hughes movies. Here the story yet again slows down, despite nearly half a billion people being connected to the OASIS that cannot disconnect there is no apparent sense of urgency. We still read how Wade and the gang are treating it as a treasure hunt. The improbability of Anorak being an A.I. of James Halliday also feels glaring and I must say I lost the finer points of the plot here. I enjoyed a lot of the 80s pop culture references, such as Pretty in Pink. Yet, these are not my preferred 80s references. Those were already in the first novel. I also approve of Wade’s long journey to correct his past mistakes, but too often I see the authors hand in these changes. Ready Player Two could have used more editing.
I liked the character Art3mis. She is very much a modern women and an effective counterpart to Wade’s immaturity. She was good in the first novel but the emphasize that has been placed on her now seems like a reaction to criticism levelled at the author that he treated women somewhat sexistly in the first novel. Perhaps the sequel should have been entirely about Art3mis and not Wade. Overall, Ready Player Two is fun to read (mostly), but it lacks the impact of the first novel. It feels like a jumble of pop culture references with bits of story in between. Halliday’s new hunt is ridiculous, boring and lacks meaning. Unlike the first novel, and that seriously hurts Ready Player Two. Despite the better second half and satisfying ending I was happy the story was over.